Delray Beach and Boca Raton Real Estate and Homes for Sale

Watch as Jeff and Dave, the founders of YourDelrayBoca.com, give you their take on the local real estate market:

There is no more dynamic real estate market in the U.S. than Boca-Delray.

From oceanfront mansions and historic homes to picturesque country clubs and subdivisions the market is vibrant, the choices are endless and the neighborhoods varied depending on age range, price and taste. The area features everything from old Florida to the most modern downtown condo’s and townhomes.

You are sure to find exactly what you want in these two world-class cities.

Buying or selling in the Delray-Boca area and need a recommendation? We can help. Learn more here.

Homeward Bound

Beautiful Port Jefferson, N.Y.

This is a hyperlocal blog focused primarily on Delray Beach and Boca Raton.
But we also focus on cities, leadership, entrepreneurship and the general notion of community; what it means and how to build it.

So in the spirit of exploration I wanted to share with you some thoughts after a recent and all too brief trip “home” to the Port Jefferson/Setauket/Stony Brook area.
It’s where I grew up on eastern Long Island after being born and spending a few years in Queens.

It’s a beautiful area, magical in so many ways.

The older areas are truly historic with buildings dating to the late 1690s and early 1700s.
The area played a key role in the Revolutionary War with George Washington’s Setauket spies doing important work to defeat the British. Those days were recently depicted in a TV series and information about the spy ring is written on plaques and available on apps that give an oral history of the area.

We never lived in the historic parts of these towns, although we appreciated the older homes, wooded environments and colonial architecture.

My family and most of my friends lived in Levitt Homes, tract housing developed by the builder who invented suburbia after World War II.

Today, those homes are 50 years old plus and when I drove to see  a few of our old house (we moved around a lot) I could see the age on what was once so new. I enjoyed seeing the mature trees and for the most part the Levitt “sections” –as they were called— have held up well.

They are lovely in their own way and each street is filled with memories of community back when neighbors knew each other and when kids played outside until dark.

It was a magical time and we lived in a magical place. And as I shared with a best friend who grew up there with me, I’m grateful for the time spent here and saddened by the time that has passed.
I’m not sure when I will come back to Stony Brook. But I’m pretty sure that I will.

I feel very connected to the place.

It is and will always be home. The place where I went to school, where I lived with my parents and sister, where my grandparents (long gone but never forgotten) visited and where I met the best friends I’ve ever had and we experienced life’s adventures for the first time.

School days and favorite teachers and first crushes.
Parties and bar mitzvahs.
Little League, pick up basketball, stickball and football.
First cars, first loves, first everything.
Then, one day it ends.

And you go off—as you should– to explore new places, new experiences and new people.
But you never completely leave home and the experiences and the people that shaped you.

These are the people who support you, challenge you, push you and pick you up when you stumble and fall—as we all do.
I felt compelled to come home when I turned 40 and wanted to show a new love where it was that I came from. I thought if she saw the places that accompanied the stories and the personal history that we would grow closer and I think we did. I was also anxious to visit her hometown, Clairton, PA., a hardscrabble kind of place that explains a lot about who she became.

Fourteen years later, almost to the day, I felt compelled to return to my hometown.
I’m not sure why. Maybe its just important to touch —albeit briefly—your roots.
Your roots are what center and ground you.

I guess I needed a dose of home.

Taking A Stroll

Last week, the Florida chapter of the American Planning Association was in West Palm Beach for their annual conference.
Hundreds of urban planners from throughout the state were in attendance to learn from each other and to pick up new ideas that can be tried back home.
West Palm Planner Ana Maria Aponte, a Delray resident, was in charge of hosting a mobile tour of local downtowns and Delray was chosen along with West Palm and Lake Worth.
I was honored and happy to take a bus load of planners on a walking tour.
Below are the notes I made of the points I wanted to make as we walked Atlantic Avenue, Pineapple Grove and the Old School Square Historic Arts District.

1. Public investment first. (In Delray’s case, the public made the initial investments in streetscapes, paver bricks, lighting, culture etc. and the private sector followed with colossal investment.)

2. Flexible zoning. Lenient parking regulations, densities. TCEA. First in state. Facade grants Cra. Rental assistance. (Flexible zoning is important where you are dealing with infill development. A reasonable parking code allowed for restaurants and an exemption from traffic concurrency rules allowed downtown to take shape. Without that “TCEA” there would have been no downtown. Density done right makes it possible for vibrancy to occur, for businesses to survive and makes our streets safer. It’s about design not density.
3. Built around culture, events. Tennis, festivals, Old School Square . (This stuff put us on the map and kept us there. Period. It created value, quality of life and wealth.)
4. We led with food and beverage. (But that was never the end game. Employment was always on the radar.)
5. Emphasis on downtown housing. (So important to support local businesses).
6. Open space preserved.
Citizens created OSS Park. City preserved Vets Park. Worthing Park etc.
7. Expand boundaries of downtown from I-95 to the ocean and two blocks north and south of avenue. We have good bones; a grid system.
U.S. 1 narrowed.  To stop speeding cars from flying past the downtown. So US 1 became a neighborhood instead of a highway.
8. Structured parking added. Land acquisition via Cra.
9. Future challenges.
Affordability: both commercial and residential.
Competition from other cities.
Managing nightlife.
Staying fresh.
Complacency  at the first signs of success when there is so much left to do.
I’m not sure I hit all of the points. We were walking fast, had limited time and I wanted to show them the Arts Garage where Marjorie Waldo graciously interrupted a staff meeting and a birthday party to give us an overview of her amazing facility.
We never did get to Old School Square where I wanted the group to meet Marusca Gatto who has done such a great job with the Cornell Museum.
Next time, for sure.
I like talking and writing about Delray Beach. I like sharing what we’ve learned with others trying to build their cities. I take great pride in the work that so many amazing people did over so many years. And I enjoy discussions of current and future challenges.
Cities are fascinating places. Ever changing. Always evolving. Always providing challenges and opportunities and so full of rich stories.
We are taking a few days off to explore some other cities. The blog will be back in a week or so.
Thanks for reading. Your attention is greatly appreciated.

Success Is Never Final

Downtown Delray wasn’t quite this bad, but it wasn’t too vibrant in the 80s.

I was following an interesting “thread” on social media recently regarding the closing of a retail store on Atlantic Avenue and U.S. 1.

Those commenting were lamenting the closing and the high rents that they blame for pushing out “mom and pop” retailers.

There were a few folks who were concerned that Atlantic Avenue was endangered by what some call “high rent blight”—the phenomenon of vacancies in a hot area caused by landlords asking for very high rents.

There were calls for more promotion of the downtown, rent controls and action from government.

It was a really interesting read.

A short time ago, I read other postings calling for an end to events and for the abolishment of agencies and entities that promote the downtown. Why waste the money, the argument went. Downtown Delray is successful, the job is done.

Well…folks, here’s an adage to remember. Success is never final and therefore your downtown is never “done.”

I moved to Florida 31 years ago this month. And it was a vastly different place.

The 1980s were not kind to downtown Delray Beach. We were not alone. Those were the days when malls and suburban shopping centers ruled the roost. Big box stores such as Walmart were killing main streets across the land.

Downtowns were left for dead and Delray was no exception.

In the mid to late 80s, downtown Delray had a roughly 40 percent vacancy rate, there was very little pedestrian or vehicular traffic, hardly any place to eat and you could have gone bowling at 5 p.m. on Atlantic Avenue without fear of hitting anything. Our brand was “Dull Ray.”

But things change.

Committed citizens, visionary entrepreneurs, bold elected officials and creative city staff began working together to change the fortunes of our downtown. Similar stories, with varying degrees of success, happened across America.

Once downtown Delray began to gain traction, leaders in the community developed a mantra. It went something like this: the downtown will never be ‘done’—it is the heart of the community and you can’t have a healthy community without a healthy heart. Complacency is a killer, we are competing with other cities for investment, residents, businesses and consumer spending and we have to constantly re-invent.

That was the philosophy that I grew up with in this town and one that I adopted when I was given the privilege of serving on the City Commission. I served with an interesting collection of people: Pat Archer, Bob Costin, Fred Fetzer, Bill Schwartz, Jon Levinson, David Schmidt, Brenda Montague, Alberta McCarthy and Rita Ellis. We were very different people—different ages, different religions, different races, different political parties and we had very different life experiences. But we managed to find common ground, even if, especially if, we had heated debate. We’d always find our center or “true north”—which was what we felt was best for the long term good of the city.

We weren’t always right. We didn’t always see with 20/20 vision what was around the bend, but we understood fundamentally that current conditions didn’t necessarily indicate future performance.

So if a part of town was broken, we assumed it could be fixed. And if a part of town was working, we assumed it could break. We knew success would require a commitment. We knew success wasn’t final and that success itself would pose additional challenges (hello traffic and high rents).

Which is why when times are good you don’t declare victory, you keep working and you wake up a little bit scared because you know that complacency is a killer. And when times get tough, you look at your assets—your agencies, your entities, your institutions, your ‘bones’ (as planners like to refer to our grid) and you sharpen them. You ask them to reinvent—to do more, be more, create more, grow and lead.

But if you kill or neglect those institutions, agencies and entities those tools will be gone or damaged. If you declare victory and take your eyes off the prize—well you just might find that you’ve been left in the dust.

Just remember, other cities always have their eyes on your assets.

 

 

Complacency is a Killer

Wynwood Yards—wow!

Recently, Bisnow Media convened a panel devoted to the remarkable rise of Wynwood, a super cool neighborhood in Miami.

The panel consisted of developers, investors and others who have been instrumental in the revitalization of a tired neighborhood into a hip, tourist draw and arts center.

Their conclusion: zoning was the key to the neighborhood’s success.

According to Bisnow: “Fortis Design+Build Managing partner David Polinsky said when Wynwood started becoming a hot neighborhood with galleries and street art, he had looked at a tract behind Panther Coffee and bought it the next day — only to find there was nothing he could build on it.

 In 2013, he helped write a white paper that laid out three planning and zoning goals: relaxed parking requirements, zoning that would permit flexible uses such as residential and office and increased density for residential development.

 The Wynwood Business Improvement District, which represents more than 400 property owners, worked with the city of Miami and planning firm PlusUrbia and, in 2015, developed a Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, which called for 10-foot-wide sidewalks, the development of studio apartments under 650 SF and the establishment of a design review committee that would consider future projects. Eventually, the city passed eight ordinances that incorporated the changes.”

The changes created value that didn’t exist before. And the magic of those zoning changes is that the value didn’t cost the taxpayers a fortune. Unlike expensive incentives and tax abatements, increasing flexibility (especially for urban infill sites) is the best tool cities have to create value, attract investment and transform neighborhoods. Zoning beats costly incentives my friends.

But success has its challenges too.

While Wynwood has won international acclaim, rents have soared squeezing out the eclectic array of small businesses that made the neighborhood attractive to begin with. Rents are now said to be between $40 and $100 per square foot, that’s very pricey for independents. On nearby Lincoln Road which started losing independents in 1999 rents can be as high as $330 a square foot.

Locally, we have experienced a similar phenomenon.

When I moved to Delray in the late 80s, Atlantic Avenue rents were $6-8 a square foot. Adjusted for inflation that would be the equivalent of $13-$17 a square foot in 2018 numbers. But today rents are $50 to over $100 a square foot downtown. That’s a challenge. Fortunately, the Downtown Development Authority recognizes that there are issues and has engaged Robert Gibbs, a noted expert, to help navigate. The city would be wise to listen to Gibbs’ 43 page analysis which is available on the DDA website. I don’t agree with it all, but it’s fascinating reading.

Urban redevelopment is often the tale of revitalization and then hyper gentrification which ultimately squeezes the charm out of a place. While change is inevitable (even Charleston, S.C. has chain stores up and down its main drag) it doesn’t always have to mean doom and gloom. There are tools—rental assistance (which can be controversial), pop-up store opportunities to test ideas, retail incubators and small liner shops that can help promote authentic and independent uses.

But it isn’t easy. And you’re never done.

That was a mantra back when Atlantic Avenue was making the turn from “Dull Ray” to “America’s Most Fun Town.”

There’s always a chorus of people who will be saying it’s time move on and concentrate elsewhere once you find some success.

 But city building is never a zero sum binary game.

You can do many things at once—and you should: each part of your city deserves its own strategy and investment plan—but you’ll never be totally done. Success is never final and with it comes challenges; many unexpected.

Wynwood is at an inflection point. I would argue that downtown Delray Beach and east Boca is as well. Mind you, these are good problems to have. They certainly beat the alternative which is our “town is dead, what do we do?”

I drove Atlantic Avenue with my dogs on a recent Sunday evening. It was a hot steamy off season night and it was nice to see crowds of pedestrians and diners—people of all ages enjoying the avenue. I noticed some vacancy and I also noticed that our streets could be cleaner. But I also saw vibrancy, hard fought, hard to get and harder to keep vibrancy.

The dogs stuck their heads out the window to check it out and soak it in. It felt good and it’s something we should cherish and work together to keep.

The challenges are not unique, but the opportunities are very unique. Consider me grateful. There’s something cool about never being done. It allows all of us to be part of an ongoing story.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Towns: A Formula For Success

Our Towns is a journey through what’s working in America.

James and Deborah Fallows are living the life I dream about.
Flying from town to town across America, embedding themselves in the community and writing about what they find.

James has done this for years as national correspondent for The Atlantic. For the book “Our Towns”, he and his wife alternate writing chapters as they visit places such as Eastport, Maine, Greenville, South Carolina, Burlington, Vermont and Winters, California.
Every town they write about is a place I’d love to visit.

Their prose is so vivid, their descriptions of the town’s stories are so compelling that you find yourself fantasizing about visiting or living there.
They seem to find the people that make a place go and spend time at brewpubs, YMCA’s, libraries and innovative schools.
They look for vibrant downtowns, committed business and civic leaders and along the way you become invested in the towns they write about.
All of the towns have a story and an arc: from despair to revitalization.
Some have  fully “arrived”, places like Greenville and Burlington and Holland, Michigan some are on the way (Eastport, Maine) but all have some common elements:
Committed citizens, a willingness to invest, a desire to improve, honesty about the problems they face, schools that take chances and set high standards, an embrace of culture and quality of life amenities and an ability to celebrate their wins. They aspire and they have civic pride. They also seem to have microbreweries. Seriously.

Anyway, the Fallows’ have come up with 11 signs a city will succeed based on their travels.
Here they are:
—Divisive national politics seem a distant concern.
—You can pick out the local patriots. You can answer the question “who makes this town go?” Sometimes it’s a mayor or council member. Sometimes it’s a volunteer or local business leader.
—Public private partnerships are real. Successful towns can point to examples and say “this is what a partnership means.”
—People know the civic story. America has a story. So does California. And so do successful towns and cities.
—They have a downtown. And that downtown is healthy and has some ambition. Good bones are critical but not enough.
—They are near a research university. This is somewhat controversial because not every successful town is so blessed. But it helps.
—They have and care about a community college.
—They have unusual schools. Schools that innovate, take risks and deliver.
—They make themselves open. Great cities are inclusive and work to assimilate newcomers.
—They have big plans. They aspire, they have vision and they execute.
—They have craft breweries. Fallows calls this perhaps the most reliable marker. His point: “ A town that has craft breweries also has a certain kind of entrepreneur and a critical mass of mainly young customers.”  He challenges us to find an exception.  Fortunately, both Delray and Boca have craft breweries. So does Boynton Beach.

Take a look at the list and see how many signs we have. Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a good summer read check out “Our Towns.”

 

In Praise of the Research Park

I’m a big fan of the Research Park at FAU and its CEO Andrew Duffell.

The park has become a major economic engine for Palm Beach County and beyond serving as warm and inviting place for talented entrepreneurs and researchers to build and scale their companies.

That’s important, because “economic gardening”–growing your own so to speak is smart policy.

As far as I’m concerned, Northern Virginia can have Amazon and its H2 Headquarters (and that’s where it’s going folks), I’d rather save incentive money and grow our own company’s right here at home. The Research Park is a good example of how that can work.

The Park’s impact has been profound– if somewhat unsung– in a region where it is hard to gain appreciation.

The 2017 numbers—which never tell the whole story—are nonetheless impressive. Consider:

  1. $387 million of investment capital raised
  2. $535.65 million in economic impact
  3. $67 million in annual payroll
  4. 3,088 total jobs sustained, that’s direct and indirect employment with another 250 jobs plus planned.
  5. 33 companies housed.
  6. 16 new patents in 2017.

On October 3, the FAU Research Park will host its annual awards banquet at The Addison in Boca.

It’s the fourth annual awards ceremony and it’s really a terrific idea to celebrate the success of the park and shine a spotlight on some of the standout players making it happen.

This is the power of having a university and a research park in our community. And the best is yet to come because I believe in the leadership of the park and their track record of results.

“The recipients of this year’s Research Park at FAU awards are all hugely impactful to the mission of the Research Park – to foster R&D at FAU and foster economic development in our region,” said Mr. Duffell, president and chief executive officer of the Research Park at FAU. “We are grateful to each for their unique contributions and hope that they inspire our stakeholders.”

The Research Park awards recognize distinguished contributions to the Research Park’s mission to create and sustain the ideal environment for innovation and invention, maximizing the academic and entrepreneurial talent and regional resources in South Florida to accelerate economic development and prosperity.

The award recipients for 2018 are:

Distinguished Researcher: Gregg Fields, Ph.D. is a professor, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and director of the Center for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. Fields applies chemistry in novel ways to answer important biological questions, many of which assist in the diagnosis and treatment of major diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis and cancer. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a renowned researcher who holds six U.S. patents and has one application being reviewed. The technology developed by Fields has resulted in three commercial products, currently sold by five different companies. He has authored or coauthored more than 260 scientific publications and has presented more than 190 invited lectures.

 

Distinguished Entrepreneur: Daniel Cane is the chief executive officer and co-founder of South Florida-based Modernizing Medicine, Inc., a healthcare IT company that is revolutionizing the way in which healthcare information is created, consumed and utilized to increase practice efficiency and improve patient outcomes. Joining the Research Park in 2012, Modernizing Medicine has grown to more than 650 employees and has raised more than $332 million in total investment. In 2016, the South Florida Business Journal named Cane as a “South Florida Ultimate CEO.” In 2015, he was named “EY Entrepreneur of the Year®.” Cane earned the Excalibur Award for Palm Beach Small Business Leader of the Year for 2013. Additionally, he also was named “Palm Beach County Ultimate CEO” by the South Florida Business Journal and “CEO of the Year” by CEO World. Recently, he and his wife, Debra, donated $1 million to FAU’s A.D. Henderson University School for STEM education initiatives.

Mr. Cane is a local product hailing from Lake Worth. What makes Dan extra special is that despite the rigors of running a hyper growth company, he has taken the time to be visible and accessible to local entrepreneurs and organizations. It makes a difference, because Mr. Cane serves as an inspiration and a role model for those aspiring to make a dent in business.

 

Distinguished Leader: Steven L. Abrams has been a member of the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners since 2009, winning re-election twice. Abrams has a lengthy record of public service. He is the former mayor of Boca Raton, elected in 2001 and re-elected in 2003 without opposition. In the 2005 election for mayor, Abrams received the most votes in city history and was later named mayor emeritus when he stepped down in 2008 due to term limits. Abrams’ work in regional transportation has been instrumental in the success of the Research Park at FAU’s access to Tri-Rail and the new I-95 interchange at Spanish River Boulevard, making the Research Park at FAU the only research park to have a direct on-ramp to an interstate.

Mayor Steven has been a terrific friend over the years and has served with distinction wherever he has landed. Many years ago, we went after Scripps together leading our cities joint efforts to bring the institute to Boca. While we fell one vote short, Steven showed his mettle and his commitment to economic development. He’s a very worthy recipient.

 

Distinguished Organization: Small Business Development Center at FAU delivered substantial consulting and training services in 2016 that resulted in a significant return on investment, including delivering more than 13,000 hours of consulting to 1,360 entrepreneurs at no cost. The SBDC’s services resulted in the creation and retention of almost 6,000 jobs in our region, and generated almost $700 million in sales. The SBDC’s role in Florida’s economic development by assisting entrepreneurs in every stage of the business life cycle is invaluable and an important complement to the greater FAU community.

To purchase tickets to attend the event visit www.research-park.org.

 

 

 

 

 

Walkability: The Killer App

The Beatles understood walkability and walked eight days a week.

There was a story in the Wall Street Journal last week that went viral.
The piece talked about how “walkability” has become the hot new rage in car-centric LA.

The reporter wrote about how walkable neighborhoods and developments are fetching higher prices and have become a top preference of baby boomers, millennials and just about anyone who can fork over a fortune on housing close to shops, dining and cultural amenities.
In other words, what we have in downtown Delray Beach.

Our walkability is not only desirable and unique in sprawling suburban South Florida it has created value for neighborhoods within striking (or golf cart) distance of the downtown.
And yet, while we as people value walkability for the quality it brings to our communities, we sure put up a fuss when it comes to enacting policies to enable it.

As a result, there is a shortage of such neighborhoods– not only in LA, but in Florida and all points in between. Because of a limited supply of walkable neighborhoods, everything from housing to commercial rents have skyrocketed in urbanized spaces.  It’s the simple law of supply and demand: when there is more demand than supply prices spike. Hence $100 rents on Atlantic Avenue and really high prices on downtown condos in Delray, Boca and yes LA.

So what’s all the fuss about?

Why can’t we enact policies to encourage more walkable and bike friendly neighborhoods?
After all, walkability is sustainable both environmentally and economically.
Well…in order to create walkable neighborhoods you can’t have policies that preference the car. You need policies that encourage the pedestrian.
Usually that means compact and dense development, the opposite of sprawl.
Hence, the angst.
Sadly,  has become a dirty word and that’s a shame. Because density done well, density deployed strategically creates magical places. It’s all about urban design and placemaking.

But many communities get caught up in a numbers game instead of a form or design based discussion. As a result, they fight density and perhaps unwittingly support policies that preference the auto over the person. They also– I believe unwittingly–support expensive and ultimately unsustainable development. The Strong Towns movement is devoted to lifting the veil on this issue and teaching communities that by promoting sprawl they are hastening their financial ruin. They offer case study after case study using basis math to prove their thesis. To learn more, visit https://www.strongtowns.org/ but fair warning, you can get lost in their website, it’s that good.

Another stumbling block is parking. So much development is driven by parking.
Parking requirements drive design and uses and because structured parking is expensive, we often end up with a sea of asphalt, hardly conducive to placemaking and walkability.
The developers I know struggle mightily with this, especially since we keep reading about automated vehicles and about how the advent of self driving cars will free of us of the tyranny of the parking lot/expensive deck.
Alas, we are not there yet. And the last thing you want to be is “under parked” which makes it hard for projects to succeed.
It’s just not easy.
And yet…
We should try.

Try to learn lessons from Donald Shoup widely regarded as one of the best minds in parking around. He came to Delray a few years back and reminded us that there is no such thing as free parking. Somebody’s paying for it. If you pay taxes, guess what? It’s you.

We should also try to embrace the idea that design and form mean more than numbers and that prescriptive codes won’t allow for creativity and will hinder investment not encourage it. But form based codes enable great design if we push developers, planners and architects. And if we educate elected officials.
Walkability and placemaking are possible. But only if we aspire, incentivize (through zoning, not cash) and insist on it.

Remembering someone special

There has been a lot of loss lately. It least it seems that way to me anyway.

Last weekend, we attended a memorial service honoring the life of Susan Shaw who spent 7 years working for the Delray CRA.

Susan was the first person you saw if you went to the CRA’s offices on Swinton Avenue and the cheerful voice you heard if you called the agency.

She retired only a few weeks ago, took a bucket list trip to New Zealand, posted wonderful photos on Facebook, came home, took ill and sadly passed away.

The news devastated her family, friends and colleagues who considered her family.

Susan was a vibrant, friendly, warm soul with a great spirit. She volunteered at the Caring Kitchen and was devoted to animal rescue. She was also active at Unity Church.

Her fellow prayer chaplains and friends gave her a wonderful send off at her memorial. Unity is a special place. The sanctuary is spectacular and the warm feeling you get when you enter the church defies description. It was an apt place to celebrate Susan Shaw.

CRA Director Jeff Costello gave one of many touching talks about Susan. And it reminded me that it takes so many parts to make a village work.

Susan Shaw wasn’t a department head, her photo won’t hang on the walls at City Hall, but she was a vital part of a team. A team dedicated to building community.

She will be missed by all who knew her.

 

Decline Isn’t Inevitable

The Maturity Curve.

I’m a big fan of urban affairs blogger Aaron Renn.

His “Urbanophile” blog is a must read if you care about cities, regions and economic development.

Recently, he wrote about “Maturity Curves”, which I’ve become familiar with relative to product life cycles.

The curve starts with an incubation period that leads to a growth phase followed by maturity and then sadly decline.

Think of products like the iPod: Apple launched the device; it quickly gained traction; then it matured and stabilized before inevitably declining only to be replaced by the newest hot thing.

Mr. Renn believes– and I agree –that the maturity curve also holds true for cities and institutions.

They hatch, grow, mature and then decline.

But is decline inevitable? Or can you intervene to make sure that you either remain stable or in a healthy, sustainable growth phase?

I believe you can ward off decline, but it requires vigilance, self-awareness, a certain degree of fear and a willingness to iterate and innovate.

Let’s take a look at some local cities and institutions to show how the maturity curve works but also how decline might be avoided.

Boca Raton is an interesting case study.

From the outside looking in the city has an awful lot of positive attributes—great schools, universities, a terrific private airport, tons of jobs, beautiful parks and some strong arts and cultural institutions. But there seems to be a lot of angst over the direction of the city’s downtown, especially the nature of new development.

Proponents of growth point to the need for new development to create critical mass downtown while those who worry feel that the scale of the new development threatens to change Boca forever –and not in a good way.

It’s an age old argument that could lead to a type of “decline” if not addressed.

Boca has a tremendous amount of what a friend of mine calls “depth” so it would be hard to imagine the city declining in a way that it becomes blighted, but decline can be measured in other ways as well.

A polarized community ripped apart by divisive politics, infighting and nasty fights over projects can weigh down a community’s momentum over time. Social media gives fuel to the divisions. A cursory glance at some Boca related pages on Facebook sheds light on some of the flashpoints.

The debate brings back memories for those of us who have been through the growth debate in Delray.

When Delray Beach was split over Worthing Place (a six story mixed use project) in the late 90s, the city embarked on a Downtown Master Plan process in 2001 to forge a common vision for how the downtown would evolve.

An outside agency—in this case the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council—was brought in to facilitate a process that encouraged community input from a broad range of stakeholders. What emerged was a consensus blueprint that addressed hot button issues including height, density and even race relations.

While the Master Plan process did not eliminate differences of opinion nor prevent controversy, the plan was embraced by a large cross section of the community and enabled projects to be green lit or voted down based on whether they fit the vision forged by the community. And that’s the key isn’t it: a vision forged by the community and implemented by elected officials, city staff and agencies.

Whenever I see communities slide into the muck, it’s often because the community has been cut out of any meaningful discussions on the future.

Delray got in trouble when we failed to realize that visions age and need to be renewed to reflect changing times and changing populations.

The hard feelings magnify when civic leaders fail to defend or understand previously adopted visions. What follows is often Monday morning quarterbacking in which past visions and strategies are questioned and disparaged. This really doesn’t serve a productive purpose. Assigning blame is hardly ever a tonic and rarely productive. What is productive is renewal.

Cities decline when visions dry up and aren’t refreshed and or replaced. You can’t fly safely without a net. It’s just that simple.

Delray’s Downtown Master Plan was hardly perfect, but it worked and it was implemented. It was incubated by hundreds of people who engaged in the process, we saw planned growth (downtown housing, the development of mixed use projects, investments in infrastructure, a race relations process that extended the downtown to I-95 etc.) and some maturation too.

Here’s a refresher summary. Delray’s Downtown Master Plan championed the following:

–A gateway feature to let people know that when they exited the interstate they were entering a special place and that the downtown extended from I-95 to A1A.

–The notion that design was more important than density. Rather than be caught up in numbers, the community should embrace well designed projects that look good and feel good in terms of scale, architecture, function and fit.

–A mix of uses was important and there was a need to break out from a sole reliance on food and beverage. Offices, retail, housing and entertainment uses were important to create a year round economy and a sustainable downtown.

But aside from policies that encouraged housing, sidewalk cafes, walkability and mixed use, the Master Plan process and past visions processes gave rise to a philosophy as well.

Here are just a few tenets:

–Complacency is a killer. When it comes to the downtown and other parts of your city, you are never done.

–The downtown is the heart of the city and you can’t be a healthy community without a healthy heart.

–You can and must do multiple things at one time—work on your downtown, focus on your neighborhoods, preserve history, invigorate other parts of your city, encourage sports, culture and art.

—Even though you don’t directly control schools, cities should take an active role in education.

So how do we avoid decline?

Cities decline when bedrock principles driven by personal preferences and priorities take precedence over values forged by the community.

That doesn’t mean that these values are written in stone and can’t be changed or amended over time. Indeed, they should be.

But that requires effort, engagement and a replacement of values, goals and visions.

When downtown Delray began to flower as a result of visioning and investment made in the late 80s and early 90s before taking off in the early 2000s, there was scant competition.

Downtown Boynton didn’t exist and while Boca was always a strong neighbor its downtown was also pretty much limited to Mizner Park and before that a failing Boca Mall.

Downtown Lake Worth wasn’t much competition at the time, there wasn’t a whole lot happening in Pompano or Deerfield Beach and West Palm’s Clematis Street was in a boom bust cycle.

Today, all of those cities are investing, have great restaurants, amenities, events and a fair amount of buzz.

We are not alone anymore—there is really good competition coming from nearby cities.

I don’t mean to take away from the achievement that was the redevelopment of the downtown because it was a remarkable turnaround, but in those days there was not a lot of competition and so we attracted consumers from neighboring cities and from our western neighbors who now also have options including the Delray Marketplace.

If we don’t realize the changing landscape we risk decline.

Today, there are tons of great restaurants, activities and events happening throughout the region.

If we become complacent and or give away what made us special, we are at risk.

The maturity curve affects cities, just as it affects iPods, Blockbuster video and cherished institutions such as Old School Square.

We need to wake up a little scared every morning and stay one step or two ahead of the competition.

Failure to do so, can be fatal. No city, product, company or institution is bullet proof.

Public Leadership (Doesn’t Have To Be An Oxymoron)

Former Mayor Nancy Graham.

I’m a big fan of ULI, the Urban Land Institute, a global organization that promotes sustainable land use and good design.
So when I was asked to appear on a panel on public leadership with two mayors I admire—West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and former West Palm Mayor Nancy Graham– I jumped at the opportunity.
My son lives in downtown West Palm Beach and so I visit more often than usual these days. I think the city has  some great things going on including start up incubators, some interesting restaurants and the new and exciting Grandview Public Market which has invigorated the Warehouse District.
Mayor Muoio, Mayor Graham and the citizens of West Palm have a lot to be proud of.

Mayor Graham was a transformational leader who put together the groundbreaking deal for City Place and brought walkability expert Jeff Speck to the city years ago to promote vibrant mixed use and pedestrian friendly development.
We’ve  been friends for years and it was good to see her back in West Palm after years in California. She lives in North Florida these days and remains a very vocal advocate for city’s and her beliefs.
We spoke to a group of young leaders who work in land use, planning, architecture, transportation, development, housing and other important disciplines.

Takeaways included the need to have political courage, the need to engage the public around development issues, the importance of having a vision and sticking with it in the face of opposition and the critical need for mayors to always be learning, evolving and leading.

After all, a bright future is not guaranteed. It  needs to be earned and it requires work, vigilance and determination.
Mayors are uniquely positioned to drive positive change. Local government is perhaps the last bastion of progress and possibilities.
Washington D.C. and state capitals tend to be partisan and therefore prone to gridlock and obstruction.
Cities and counties have unique opportunities to effectuate change and think long term.

But only if they choose to do so. I’ve seen many cities seize opportunities and make miraculous progress.
Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and an array of rust belt cities have managed to come back to life through reinvention, strategic investment and political will.
I enjoy reading stories about Detroit and other cities that are finding ways to reverse decades of decay.  It’s inspiring and gives you faith that problems can be solved.

Locally, Delray Beach, Lake Worth, Pompano Beach, West Palm and Fort Lauderdale are interesting examples of cities that have employed vision, investment and public engagement to forge promising futures.
Each city was wise to choose its own strategy and “style”.

Delray’s scale and emphasis on the arts, culture, sports and diversity proved to be a winning formula that has paved the way to attract creative industries.  If we stay the course, market our amenities and add to the vision we can have more progress and solve our ongoing challenges.

Pompano Beach is pursuing an innovation district as an anchor offering. The city has made impressive strides in recent years.

West Palm seems to be embracing its role as the county seat and has aspirations to be an important city and not just a ‘hallway’ to the airport, Palm Beach and county government as the mayor noted.
BRAVÒ!
I love cities that aspire. I respect cities that have ambitions, plan for the future and honor the past.
Forward thinking. Political will. Vision. Engagement. Strategic investment. That’s the formula.
I’m glad to see ULI embracing the next generation of leadership. It was a joy to be in the room with energetic leaders who want to build anew and take our cities to the next level.
We have a bright future as a result of these efforts.

Mayor Muio.

Campaign Rhetoric & Truth

Two years have passed since the Task Force completed it’s report.

Ahhh campaigns.

Or should I say oy…. campaigns?
We are at the height of the silly season with 8 days left until Election Day in Delray and the insults, innuendo and flat out lies are flying.
I thought I’d delve into two whoppers but first a disclaimer: I’ve endorsed Jim Chard for mayor (not a shocker he’s got a slew of endorsements including from six other past mayors) and Ryan Boylston. So if you need to stop reading here that’s ok. We understand.

The two campaign barbs I want to explore relate to new urbanism and the Congress Avenue Task Force.
One mail piece attacked Mr. Chard for having a “new urbanist” agenda as if  that was some sort of hideous malady. So I thought I’d clarify.
Here’s the definition of new urbanism: “New Urbanism is a planning and development approach based on the principles of how cities and towns had been built for the last several centuries: walkable blocks and streets, housing and shopping in close proximity, and accessible public spaces. In other words, New Urbanism focuses on human scaled urban design. 

Have mercy…who would want that?!
Perhaps, sprawl –which promotes traffic and uses more resources (which is bad for the environment)– would be a better approach?
We think not.

Folks, Delray has long embraced the concepts of new urbanism. It’s been the strategy and game plan and it’s achieved some pretty impressive results.
Someone either wasn’t paying attention to the past 30 years or they really think sprawl and large seas of asphalt parking lots are charming.
Which is a nice segue to Congress Avenue.

I was asked to chair the Congress Avenue Task Force a few years back and we assembled three dozen volunteers who worked for the better part of a year to produce a plan for the important corridor.
We were proud of our work and thought we produced a viable and exciting plan to create jobs, housing and tax base on what has been an underperforming corridor.
We wanted to create ‘Delray’s next great street.’
The commission “accepted” the report (whatever that means) praised it publicly and then let it gather dust on a shelf.
It’s not wise to waste the efforts of volunteers especially when one of our top recommendations was to get moving right away.

Sigh…
Anyway, one of the campaign mailers attacked Mr. Chard for the plan, unfair on many levels because while Jim was a major contributor, he was part of a larger team.

I find it poor form to attack the work of volunteers especially when you don’t bother to attend a single meeting and especially when you are misrepresenting the work of the task force for political gain.
At no point did the task force recommend narrowing Congress Avenue. We did talk about making the road safer, more efficient and more aesthetically pleasing. There was also discussion on creating a job creating destination instead of a speedway to jobs in Boca and Boynton Beach.

A member of the task force called me expressing disgust at the mailer.
It’s just politics I said.
But I was quickly corrected: “well it’s unacceptable to throw volunteers under the bus by lying about what we recommended.”
Yes it is.
But that’s where we are these days.
And it’s why citizens tune out and why they don’t trust politicians.
Vote accordingly.
But please vote. It’s important.